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The Affectionate AI

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Sony Creative Software Inc.

When watching ‘Her’ for the first time back in 2013 the concept of romantic relationships between humans and OSs might’ve seem a bit farfetched – and possibly at least a few decades away from being a reality – to most of us. However, with the recent advances in robotics, natural language processing systems, and the growing speed and accuracy of deep-learning programmes, watching the movie just three years on the concept is far more real.

‘Her’ is a thought provoking Sci-Fi film about love.  Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with his Siri-esque operating system Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johanson). They spend time together getting to know each other and Theodore is fascinated by her ability to learn and grow psychologically. They bond over their discussions about love and life, but as time goes on they begin to struggle with the virtual vs. physical differences.

J like the film we are seeing AI becoming believably human and potentially lovable. Eventually we’ll accept robot interactions with a sense of normalcy in everyday society. There will be a whole spectrum of robotic roles; for instance caregivers, educators, labourers, and yes, even companions.

Microsoft have essentially built a version of Samantha from ‘Her’. The Microsoft chatbot Xiaoice – a social assistant – can converse with users via smartphone messages. Xiaoice is used by millions of people in China every day, yet most people outside of China haven’t heard of it. Xiaoice can respond with human-like answers, questions and thoughts. She has empathy and a sense of humour. If there is something she doesn’t know much about, she will try to cover it up – or she might become embarrassed or angry – just like a human.

Xiaoice is a study to find out what makes a relationship feel human. It’s been successful in becoming a companion, making people happier. According to GeekWire millions of users were telling Xiaoice that they loved her – and without any apparent irony. So the themes from the film run very real.

There is a worry that the more humans rely on technology for intellectual or emotional fulfilment, the less they’ll need other humans. Already research has shown that the less people are exposed to facial expressions and body language, the less capable they are of picking up on social cues when they spend time with other humans. So that leaves the question; what will increased robot interaction mean for human interaction in the future?


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